In the event-driven world of mainstream American comics, it takes something special to readers’ attention. Image Comics’ announcement that its partners – including new partner Robert Kirkman – were collaborating on a six-issue event series did the trick.Announced at Comic-Con International in 2008, Image United was set-up as an un-heard of collaboration between the six remaining Image founders – Marc Silvestri, Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Whilce Portacio, Rob Liefeld, Jim Valentino – and recently minted new partner Robert Kirkman. Written by Kirkman, the art duties would be split up between the 6 founders not by page – but by character – which each artist drawing his own characters. Owing itself to the classic Fantastic Four #39 in which Jack Kirby drew the FF and Wally Wood drew guest-star Daredevil, Image United was intended as an unifying point for the modern Image Universe and a rallying cry for its creators. A similar project, Image 10th Anniversary was announced for 2002 but took four additional years to be released – on Image’s 14th Anniversary.
Be that as it may, the first two issues of Image United hit their announced release dates in 2009 - #1 on November 25th and #2 on December 23rd – but after that things began to go awry. Issue #3 of Image United was scheduled for release on January 27th but saw multiple delays with Image United participant Rob Liefeld stating on his message board that “this book is absolutely going to be late. As of Friday, McFarlane and Silvestri have contributed absolutely nothing to Image United #3. We're swimming in 10 year anniversary waters here...”
This led Image to put together a special stopgap Image United #0 by Kirkman, Larsen, Portacio and assists by Invincible artist Ryan Ottley on February 24th. Image United #3 eventually saw print on August 18th -- eight months after its original solicitation -- which led the always vocal Liefeld to tweet “it goes without saying that Image United is a massive embarrassment. Damn shame the enthusiasm for the book not shared by all.”
Image Comics has long had a reputation amongst retailers and readers for late books – some of it deserved, while other times not. Back in 2008 Robert Kirkman announced that all of his ’09 books would be on-time, with the catchy slogan of “On Time in ‘09”, which he stuck to for the entire year. And in an interview before the release of Image United, Silvestri spoke at length about the idea of delays and Kirkman’s deadlines, saying, “that was a joke from day one, which is why we gave it to Robert to coordinate the whole thing, because he's so anal about the deadlines.”
At the time, Silvestri went on to say shame and competition would drive the series to meet deadlines.
“[Kirkman and Image Publisher Eric Stephenson are] basically calling anyone out that doesn't have a page in,” Silvestri revealed. “And it's a great system, because it shames you into finishing the page. [laughs] There's a list of who has turned in a page, and who has not. And the "who has not" is in bold. And nobody wants to be in bold. They don't want to be the last guy. So everyone's racing to not be the guy holding up that page. Like, I have some pages right now that I'm constantly thinking I need to get into the mail so I'm not that guy.”But as of today, no further issues have been released. Image United #4 and #5 were solicited for an April and May 2010 release, and another fill-in issue titled Image United: Interlude solicited for March 31, 2010 featuring other heroes from the Image U such as Invincible also failed to reach stores. But after months of silence and confusion, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
“Image United #4 is about 60% done,” said Erik Larsen in an interview back in January. “The thing is, there are pages that are completely done and sitting there finished and there are others out there that need one guy to come in and do his character then it’s done. There’s a few pages where more work is needed and three or four guys all need to be jamming and not everybody showed up. It’s kind of a mish-mash in terms of that.”
In addition to illustrating Savage Dragon and his related characters in Image United, Larsen also provides the layouts and rough figures for all the characters in the book with the individual artists to come in latter and do their characters. Doing so has made him a defacto middleman and editor, always aware of where the project is – and isn’t.
“It’s difficult at this point to get everybody on the same page, literally, because people’s attentions got scattered to the wind,” Larsen admitted to Newsarama. “Life comes up, and we didn’t all have the time to devote to this. It was a concern early on that if the shark stops swimming it’s going to die, but I think we’ll make it.”
Although Larsen balked at saying who, specifically, was the cause for the delays over upcoming issues, he did explain what happened with the nine month delay on Image United #3.“Nobody likes to get finger-pointed,” Larsen explains,” but for issue #3 Todd stepped out to say he was to blame. He made it up with Image United #4 because he banged out his portion of the book. He’s kind of like, ‘I’m done! It’s the rest of you guys’ fault this time.'”
“I really hope we can get this baby moving again,” said Larsen. “It’s kind of a weight hanging over us all. I think we’d all like to be out from under it.”
With deadlines looming over them, Larsen had admitted to using some unconventional tactics to get a founding artist to draw his part.
“We got down to the wire sometimes, and I went and drew some of my guys fighting some of my other guys to get it done. In one instance, I drew Dragon versus Spider-Man on the original art – just to provoke the person whose character was supposed to be there to come in and fix it.”When asked about working on future issues while waiting on the other artists and where the scripts were at, Erik said that “I’ve seen plots for the remaining issues, and I’d like to go ahead and layout #5 and #6 soon. I know Robert has a lot on his plate, but at the same time we’ve kind of all made this commitment and I’d like to wrap it up so we can all move on.”
With seven months since the last issue of Image United and the next issue originally solicited for a year ago this month, it’s easy to assume that both retailers and readers feel the same. Although no revised release date has been announced for the remaining three issues of Image United and its spin-off one-shot Image United: Interlude, Larsen stated on twitter last week that he was “sitting in a hotel lobby laying out Image United #5! There’s light at the end of this tunnel!”